Canada’s passport backlog ‘virtually eliminated,’ minister says

Welcome development but government failed to plan for surge in demand, despite having been noted in various planning documents:

Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould says the passport backlog has been “virtually eliminated” and processing times in passport offices are back to pre-pandemic levels.

The announcement comes amid a three-day Liberal cabinet retreat in Hamilton, Ont.

“Since its peak in June 2022, after dedicating resources to ensure these Canadians receive their passports, approximately 98 per cent of the backlog of applications have been processed,” Gould said, speaking in a press conference on Tuesday.

“The backlog is virtually eliminated.”

Passport offices were snowed under by applications as COVID-19 restrictions eased last year.

Canadians eyeing sunny vacations and international visits needed passports that gathered dust during the pandemic to be renewed — and the requests inundated the service.

Since April of 2022, Service Canada has issued more than two million passports, according to a press release from Gould’s office. By the end of the fiscal year, she added during her press conference, the government is expecting that number to reach between three and three and a half million.

“That’s more than double what we would have done in the previous year,” Gould said.

Another key contributor to the backlog, she added, was the fact that between 80 to 85 per cent of applications were for new passports for first-time passport holders. Gould explained it is “more complex” to issue these kinds of documents.

Going into the summer, however, she said the government is expecting a higher level of requests for passport renewals — which are “much simpler” to do.

The passport office is also anticipating to receive between three to five million passport applications per year for the next “couple of years,” the minister added.

There are two standards for the delivery of passport applications in Canada. The government aims to delivery in-person passport applications within 10 days, and holds itself to a 20 day standard for applications received by mail or dropped off at a Service Canada Centre.

The months-long waiting periods for passports led critics to accuse the Liberals of being unable to deliver even basic services to Canadians.

At the peak of the backlog, most Canadians were waiting up to 40 working days to get their hands on a new passport.

“To those Canadians and others who have shown such admirable patience during this difficult situation, I once again apologize,” Gould said, speaking on Tuesday.

Looking forward, the government intends to focus its efforts and resources on maintaining service standards, especially as a growth in applications looms just around the corner. Canada started issuing 10-year validity passports in the summer of 2013 — and some of those will be eligible for renewal starting this summer.

The planned announcement comes as Liberals are trailing the Conservatives in most polls of late.

The choice of Hamilton for the retreat is electorally strategic as it is in one of the most competitive regions in the country, and one the Liberals must win big in if they want to stay in power.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau started the second day of his retreat by meeting with Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath.

The Liberal cabinet has a lengthy to-do list over the three-day gathering, including tackling inflation and making the country more competitive.

Source: Canada’s passport backlog ‘virtually eliminated,’ minister says

Crise des passeports: Jusqu’à deux fois moins d’employés en 2022

Of note. See my earlier op-ed Passport delays risk undermining our trust in government on the complexity of linkages between IRCC, responsible for passport policy, and Service Canada, responsible for delivery, and the failure of both to anticipate demand even if official planning documents expected a surge once travel restrictions lifted:

Ottawa a réduit considérablement les effectifs affectés au traitement des demandes de passeport entre 2018 et 2021. Résultat : ils étaient presque deux fois moins au début de 2022 pour répondre aux nombreuses demandes des Canadiens désireux de voyager après la levée des principales mesures de restriction pour les déplacements à l’étranger.

Selon des données obtenues par La Presse en vertu de la Loi sur l’accès à l’information auprès d’Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada, 1512 fonctionnaires étaient chargés de répondre aux demandes de passeport au début de l’année 2018. On n’en comptait plus que 893 en 2021, un nombre qui est passé à 1161 au cours de l’année suivante.

Cette baisse substantielle des effectifs a nui considérablement à la capacité de Passeport Canada de traiter le flot de demandes au cours de l’été 2022, signale Yvon Barrière, vice-président exécutif régional Québec à l’Alliance de la fonction publique du Canada (AFPC). « On avait entre 40 et 50 % de personnel en moins », précise-t-il.

Où sont allés tous ces employés ? Un très grand nombre ont été affectés à d’autres services au plus fort de la pandémie, alors que des mesures de restriction limitaient de façon importante les voyages à l’étranger. De nombreux fonctionnaires de Passeport Canada ont notamment travaillé au traitement des demandes de prestation canadienne d’urgence (PCU) au moment où la COVID-19 forçait l’arrêt de nombreux secteurs d’activité économique.

« Chaque fois qu’il y avait un nouveau programme d’aide aux citoyens, le gouvernement avait tendance à aller chercher du personnel à l’Agence du revenu, à l’Immigration et aux passeports. »

– Yvon Barrière, vice-président exécutif régional Québec à l’Alliance de la fonction publique du Canada

UN AN ET DEMI DE RETARD

Mais selon M. Barrière, la diminution des effectifs n’est pas la seule cause de la crise des passeports qui a fait les manchettes au cours de l’été 2022. Un retard important dans le traitement des demandes au plus fort de la pandémie a aussi aggravé la situation.

« Les demandes de passeport, alors que les gens ne peuvent pas voyager, ils peuvent patienter. Laissez-les de côté, disaient les gestionnaires », indique M. Barrière, qui estime qu’on a ainsi cumulé jusqu’à un an et demi de retard dans le traitement des demandes.

« Tous les ingrédients étaient là pour ce qu’on a connu [à l’été 2022] », soutient-il. Au moment où il n’y avait plus de restrictions pour voyager à l’étranger, les employés se sont donc retrouvés à traiter une hausse considérable de demandes de nouveaux passeports ou de renouvellement. Tout cela avec un retard important cumulé dans les deux années précédentes.

« Ils n’ont pas vu venir la crise », plaide Yvon Barrière. Il estime pourtant que celle-ci était parfaitement prévisible. « Si les gestionnaires avaient prévu le coup, on n’aurait pas eu les files d’attente qu’on a connues », soutient-il.

Quand Ottawa a entrepris d’embaucher du personnel face au flot de demandes, la situation ne s’est pas nécessairement améliorée, du moins pas à court terme. « Il fallait former les employés et souvent, on prenait les meilleurs pour les former. Ils n’avaient pas le temps de traiter les demandes. »

Le représentant syndical rejette par ailleurs l’argument voulant que le grand nombre d’employés en télétravail au cours des trois dernières années ait pu ralentir le traitement des demandes de passeport.

Selon les données obtenues par La Presse, au moins 80 % du personnel traitant les demandes de passeport a travaillé à distance en 2020, 2021 et 2022. « Les gens ont des quotas, ils doivent traiter un certain nombre de demandes chaque jour, qu’ils soient à la maison ou au bureau », explique Yvon Barrière.

« ILS ONT EU LEUR LEÇON »

La majorité des employés prêtés à d’autres services ont été rapatriés, estime-t-il, jugeant que le retard dans le traitement des demandes a été comblé.

« Ils ont eu leur leçon. Ils sont en train de reprendre le contrôle. On ne devrait pas vivre de nouvelle crise », conclut-il.

Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada n’a pas donné suite aux questions de La Presse, nous invitant à écrire à Emploi et Développement social Canada (EDSC). En réponse à notre courriel, EDSC a précisé ne pas être en mesure de répondre à nos questions vendredi.

Source: Crise des passeports: Jusqu’à deux fois moins d’employés en 2022

Mason: We have questions about Pierre Poilievre’s passport story

Good thorough exposé. Clever gimmicks need to reflect the reality, and be confirmed by the reality. To date, neither “True North” or Rebel Media have picked up Polievre’s claims:

Have you heard the one about the guy from Calgary who couldn’t attend his own wedding in Cuba because he didn’t have a passport?

Even better – it was all Justin Trudeau’s fault.

This remarkable tale, with an emphasis on tale, comes courtesy of the great storyteller himself, Pierre Poilievre. The federal Conservative Leader posted a video online last week in which he chronicled a random meeting he had recently at the Ottawa airport with a man who identified himself as Mustafa, from Calgary.

When Mr. Poilievre asked what he was doing in Ottawa, Mustafa said he was there to get a passport. “You can get a passport in Calgary,” the Opposition leader told the man. “I thought so too, but I applied 10 months ago and it became desperate because I have a wedding in Cuba for myself and I need to get my passport to get there.”

“When’s your wedding?” Mr. Poilievre apparently said.

Dramatic pause.

“Yesterday,” Mustafa is said to have answered.

When Mr. Poilievre asked where the bride-to-be was, Mustafa said she was in Cuba waiting for him with 20 of his best friends.

“This is how everything operates with Justin Trudeau,” Mr. Poilievre says into the camera. “People still waiting 10 months for a passport.”

I have questions. Many others have questions too. But I guess my first one is: Does Mustafa actually exist? Because I have suspicions and I’m not the only one.

After watching Mr. Poilievre’s video, which he posted on Twitter, I put a call out on the social media platform for anyone who had more information on the man named Mustafa. Did anyone know him or know anything about his circumstances? I directed the question to Mr. Poilievre’s office as well. The last time I looked, my tweet had almost 254,000 views and incited the hashtag #whereisMustafa. There was nothing from anyone who could substantiate any part of the story. (Many expressed skepticism about it.) However, plenty of people relayed how quickly they were able to get their passports after applying. Some in less than 10 days.

But let’s assume for the moment Mustafa does exist. My first question to him would be: why would you organize a wedding in Cuba and send your bride-to-be and all your friends there when you didn’t have a passport? I mean, seriously. Many would say Mustafa was pretty dumb to organize a destination wedding when he didn’t have the necessary documents to attend it.

There were avenues he could have explored to expedite the processing time for his application. He could have gone to a passport office, explained his circumstances, and paid extra to get it quicker. He could have contacted his MP. Mostly, he could have said to his fiancée: “You know, we should hold off until I actually have my passport in hand.”

Regardless, it’s a pretty poor example for Mr. Poilievre to be holding up of why “everything is broken in this country.”

It also has echoes of MP Mark Strahl’s infamous constituent “Briane,” the single mom from Chilliwack who the Conservative politician insisted had her bank account frozen over a $50 donation she made to the Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa. However, the RCMP and the finance ministry cast doubts on the story and Mr. Strahl refused to provide any further details about her identity.

But back to his boss.

At some point Mr. Poilievre needs to begin showing that he is prime ministerial material, that he has the gravitas to ascend to such an important position. Because up to now, he’s been one of the least serious Conservative leaders we have seen in some time.

Yes, he’s articulate and can make a great video. But mostly he’s demonstrated an ability to whip up fear and stoke anger. Every conceivable problem in this country he lays at the feet of Mr. Trudeau. His predecessor, Erin O’Toole, recently said that some of the “hyperaggressive” rhetoric his party has been associated with in the last while is slowly “normalizing rage and damaging our democracy.”

He could have been looking straight into the eyes of Mr. Poilievre when he said it.

There are many things that the Liberal government in Ottawa can and should be criticized for. Its fiscal and monetary policy. Debt. Immigration policy. Our shrinking middle-power status. These are big, heady matters that demand a thoughtful critique, not gimmicky, attention-getting videos that don’t offer solutions but are seemingly designed solely to assign blame and agitate the masses.

Whether Mustafa actually exists is not the question here. The question is why is Pierre Poilievre talking about him in the first place?

Source: We have questions about Pierre Poilievre’s passport story

Passport Processing: Appears to have turned the corner

Latest stats showing the September was the first month that passports issued was greater than applications received. However, no stats on the degree to which service standards on processing time were met:

Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/passport/statistics.html

Canadian passport offices took two years to return to pre-COVID staffing

Good example of meaningless reporting with no context and adding nothing to existing articles flagging departmental business plans and union comments on the expected upsurge:

Have passport, will travel post-COVID.

Unless you live in Canada where it took more than two years to restore pre-COVID in-person staffing levels at passport offices despite the feds being warned of an increase in travel document demand, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.

Inquiry Of Ministry data, requested by Conservative MP Dan Albas (Central Okanagan-Similkameen, B.C.)., show as late as this past summer more than 11% of staff continued to work from home.

On March 1, 2020, right as the COVID shutdown began, the passport office had 831 employees at public service centres.

By Jan. 1, 2022, only 757 were on the job, which is a 9% reduction.

Passport offices did not reach pre-pandemic staffing levels until all service counters were reopened on May 9.

The Inquiry data has not explained why there was a failure to address demand for passports that led to five and six-hour lineups at Service Canada offices and three month waits for mailed applications.

“We are doing everything we can,” Social Development Minister Karina Gould said July 23.

However, a June 23 briefing note called Passport Productivity And Staffing Measures said it knew last summer it should prepare for an increase in applications.

“In anticipation of increased volumes Service Canada began implementing a staffing plan last July,” it said.

However, the Inquiry said numerous passport offices had fewer staff in January 2022 than during COVID-related shutdowns starting in March 2020.

The Inquiry said prior to the pandemic in January 2020 the passport office issued 229,392 travel documents with monthly processing falling to 2,100 in May 2020.

Last month, 240,980 passports were issued.

“I completely understand the frustration Canadians are facing right now,” Gould said earlier.

Source: Canadian passport offices took two years to return to pre-COVID staffing

Clerk Report to PM 2022 – Service Delivery Language [more candour required]

Like all government reports (save audits and evaluations), the Clerk report focuses on successes, not failures. Certainly, COVID financial support and vaccine procurement are right to be highlighted as overall successes, as are ongoing efforts to increase diversity and representation, as highlighted in the report and data tables.

But its characterization of how the government responded to Afghan refugees following the Taliban takeover presents a far more positive picture than warranted, to be diplomatic.

But looking ahead, curious to see how the recent failures of government service delivery (i.e., passports and immigration) will be treated in the 2023 report, given this 2022 commitment:

Deliver results for Canadians.

We have clearly shown the Public Service’s ability to step up and overcome every obstacle to get things done and deliver real results for Canadians. We have proven what we can do during times of crisis and we have learned much from this. But this has also disrupted our usual lines of work. Now, we must apply what we have learned to how we approach everything —from delivering core programs and services to responding to unexpected challenges. We must build on our enhanced capacity to deliver digitally while holding true to the importance of providing in-person support, to ensure every Canadian gets the service and results they need in a timely manner. Public servants should feel empowered to ask how things could be done better, and they should be supported in taking thoughtful risks in how we implement to achieve results for Canadians. The lessons we learned from the pandemic will help us get there.

Certainly, some honesty regarding the public service service delivery failings will be needed for the 2023 report’s (and Clerk’s) credibility.

To be mischievous, I redrafted this paragraph for the 2023 report to encourage drafters of next year’s report to be more candid regarding areas where the government had significant policy and program failures (“challenges” in bureaucratese):

Deliver results for Canadians – Lessons learned from program failures

We have clearly shown the Public Service’s (in) ability to step up and overcome every obstacle to get things done and (fail to) deliver real results for Canadians. We have proven what we can do during times of crisis (and what we cannot do) and we have learned much from this (particularly from failures in passport and immigration service delivery). But this has also disrupted our usual lines of work. Now, we must apply what we have learned (from successes and failures) to how we approach everything —from delivering core programs and services to responding to unexpected challenges. We must renew focus on service delivery in order to restore trust. We must build on our enhanced capacity to deliver digitally, including real time status updates and greater transparency, while holding true to the importance of providing in-person support (including reducing waiting times and lines), to ensure every Canadian gets the service and results they need in a timely manner. Public servants should feel empowered to ask how things could be done better (without penalty), and they should be supported in taking thoughtful (to be defined) risks in how we implement to achieve results for Canadians. The lessons we learned from the pandemic (service failures) will help us get there.

Source: 29th Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada

Airport, passport and immigration problems ‘should never have happened,’ minister admits

Refreshing admission by Minister Miller (he consistently one of the few ministers who is more candid with respect to government weaknesses and failures). And yes, the task force is more communications than substance as the main issues involve Service Canada and IRCC, which did not need a task force to address. (Airport issues are more complex given the different players involved):

The delays plaguing Canada’s airports, passport services and immigration processes “should never have happened in the first place,” the federal minister charged with co-leading Ottawa’s task force on slashing wait times admitted Monday.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, providing an update on the government’s efforts to tackle pandemic-induced delays across a swath of operations and services, said that despite some improvements, officials were still working to prevent such issues from occurring again.

“I do want to say that nobody should be congratulating themselves for having done their jobs. We are by no stretch of the imagination out of the woods yet. The focus will continue to be on Canadians and the results they expect and deserve from this or any other government,” Miller said at a joint news conference with other ministers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a committee involving 13 cabinet members in late June to get started on reducing wait times at major airports and clear out backlogs that led to sluggish processing times for passport and immigration applications.

As COVID-19 restrictions eased, air passengers passing through Canadian travel hubs have contended with hours-long delays in security screening lines, delayed or cancelled flights, hiccups with the ArriveCAN app and the chaos of lost baggage.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Monday that between January and August, the number of air travellers jumped by more than 250 per cent just as the travel industry faced staffing shortages.

He pointed to the hiring of more than 1,800 new screening officers and weekly meetings with airlines, airports and travel-related government departments as evidence that delays were improving. According to the federal government, between Aug. 18 and Aug. 21, 85 per cent of passengers were screened within 15 minutes. The number of aircraft held at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport also dropped to 47 by the third week of August, down from 370 in May.

Monette Pasher, the interim president of the Canadian Airports Council, said there has been “marked progress” in reducing wait times and cancellations in the past few weeks.

But she told the Star in a statement that other measures, like modernizing screening procedures and reopening Nexus assessment centres amid a backlog of applications for the trusted traveller program, would improve the situation more.

The staffing increases don’t change the fact that airport screeners are “worn out,” said Catherine Cosgrove, the director of communications and public affairs for Teamsters Canada, which represents over 1,000 screeners across the country.

“We can expect to continue seeing difficulties in hiring and retaining screeners and delays throughout the fall,” she told the Star, adding that there still aren’t enough trainers to get new hires working at full capacity.

Addressing frustrations experienced by Canadians trying to renew or apply for passports, Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould acknowledged “the recent demand for passports far exceeded the government’s expectations.”

That was despite unions representing federal workers warning the government in 2021 that passport requests would rise, without the necessary staffing to take on the increased load.

Gould said Ottawa has boosted the number of staff handling the country’s passport program and that workers have implemented a “triage system” to better process applications. Passport services have also been expanded in a number of offices and Service Canada centres.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser also discussed application backlogs within his department, which have left international students and others hoping to immigrate to Canada in limbo.

“Though we have a welcoming nature towards newcomers, our immigration system has faced unprecedented challenges and obstacles that have become larger and have compounded on one another over the past few years,” Fraser said.

He said that owing in part to staffing changes, his department had returned to a “pre-pandemic service standard” in some areas and was on track to reaching its permanent residency and study permit goals.

“We could have sat here and blamed others. We could have blamed airlines, we could blame this, that and the other. But we realized quite quickly that a lot of responsibility did lie on our shoulders,” Miller told reporters.

“To some extent, we were slow in responding to a number of unprecedented … things that Canadians expect to see from their governments.”

Indeed, ministers said Monday that Ottawa has been “scrambling” to contend with a series of challenges outside its control, from the havoc the pandemic wrought on Canada’s travel sector to continuous humanitarian crises that hampered which immigration applications were prioritized.

“We’ve thrown bodies at the problem, which is not the most effective way of doing things. It’s important because it got people their passports in time so they could finally travel after sitting in their houses for two years,” Miller said. “That is not the most effective way … of doing things.”

Source: Airport, passport and immigration problems ‘should never have happened,’ minister admits

Feds announce four new passport service sites as backlog continues

https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2063068227573

Good service improvement move but will have limited impact on backlog. That being said, Service Canada data indicates progress compared to earlier months, although the number of applications is still greater than the number of passports issued.

Hopefully, ESDC/Service Canada and IRCC will publish monthly passport stats (applications and issued) on opendata as per other immigration and citizenship stats:

The federal government is adding new passport service locations across Canada as a backlog in processing applications continues.

Social Development Minister Karina Gould announced Wednesday that people can now apply for and pick up passports at Service Canada centres in Red Deer, Alta., Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Trois-Rivières, Que., and Charlottetown, P.E.I.

That’s on top of five new locations added in July, and Gould expects to bring another seven to nine locations into the program soon.

“I think this is a really important and long-overdue change,” she said in an interview. “Those of us who live in more urban areas, we don’t realize that we’re so lucky to be close to a passport office.”

The additions should make it easier for people outside large centres to access services and ease stress on offices in regional hubs, she added.

No new federal money was required to make the change, Gould said. Resources come out of a revolving fund made up of passport fees. 

Gould said the current crisis and complaints over long wait times have accelerated the work but she was already looking at bringing passport services to more locations before the backlog.

She visited Sault Ste. Marie in April, before media began reporting on complaints over wait times. The local Liberal MP, Terry Sheehan, told Gould that people in the Sault had to drive seven or eight hours to Thunder Bay or Toronto to visit a passport office in person. 

Until Wednesday, there was no passport office on Prince Edward Island.

“So I was starting to already look at who is not close, and how can we fix this,” she said. “And then it became that much more acute.” 

Nearly 1.1 million applications for new and renewed passports have been filed since April as pandemic restrictions loosen and Canadians resume travelling. 

More than one-quarter of those hadn’t yet been processed as of early August.

Government statistics show the system is starting to catch up with demand, as the gulf between the number of passport applications each month versus the number of passports issued is getting smaller. 

Call centre wait times have gone down significantly and “triage measures” were implemented at 17 passport offices to mitigate in-person headaches.

Gould said 442 new employees were hired so far this summer and 300 are already trained and working.

But a large backlog remains.

In the first week of August, the number of passports issued within 40 business days of an application fell to 72 per cent from 81 per cent the week before.

That is largely because of mailed applications.

During the first week of August, passports from in-person applications were issued within the government’s 10-day service standard 95 per cent of the time, a rate that has remained steady throughout the summer.

For mailed applications the service standard of 20 days was met only 40 per cent of the time in early August, down from 53 per cent in late July. The government also warns it can take more than 13 weeks to get your passport by mail.

The overall numbers aren’t materially better than in June, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to respond to growing complaints and called the system’s performance “unacceptable.” 

The week of June 20, 76 per cent of passports were issued within 40 business days.

The processing times also don’t take into account the wait to get an in-person appointment and there are only a limited number of walk-ins available.

Proof of upcoming travel is required to get service within two months at offices with 10-day processing times, including those announced Wednesday.

Urgent services for people who can prove they need a passport within 48 hours are only available in bigger urban centres — Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Gatineau, Que., and Quebec City.

As the backlash over the wait times continues, some reports suggest Canadians are making “fake” travel plans to show to passport officers, then cancelling their flights once their application is in the queue. 

Gould said she’s not aware of this being a “widespread issue” but she has heard about it anecdotally. “I strongly discourage Canadians to do that. It’s unfair, it’s unkind and it’s unnecessary,” she said. 

Gould said at the morning press conference that the government failed to predict to what extent demand would sharply spike earlier this year. She insisted an unexpected glut of mailed-in applications is the main culprit in the passport delays.

Although she wouldn’t comment on the specifics of its deliberations, she said a cabinet committee stood up earlier this year — the Task Force on Services to Canadians — is looking at how to make sure that services under federal jurisdiction are being delivered in “a timely and effective way” that takes the toll of the pandemic into account.

Source: Feds announce four new passport service sites as backlog continues

Passport delays spur some Canadians to game the system with fake travel plans

Ongoing saga. Understandable that some would feel need to game the system or engage line-up placeholders:

Canadians are getting creative trying to cut the long waits for passports that have been dragging on for close to five months after a surge in post-pandemic travel demand overwhelmed the system.

By Aug. 11, a total of 1,092,560 passport applications had been filed this year – with more than 550,000 of those applications flooding in since April.

Service Canada said it’s prioritizing the applications of people traveling imminently, increasing staff and processing sites.

Despite all this, applicants say they are spending thousands of dollars to travel to less-busy passport offices — or even faking travel plans to speed the process to beat the 340,000-application backlog.

Federal officials say they are working to fix the problem.

Fake trips impact entire system

Karina Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, said Canadians are getting their passports on time, and there’s no need to “fake” travel — booking a flight you do not plan to take — to be eligible for Passport Canada’s urgent 48-hour approval mechanism.

“That impacts the whole system. There are a lot of people who did the right thing. They sent off their passports well in advance. Their applications are impacted by anyone who books fake travel,” Gould told CBC in a phone interview on Friday.

She had heard of the practice, but doubts it is widespread.

“I would be very disappointed to hear that, because that would be putting additional pressure on a system that is already pressured,” said Gould.

Meanwhile in Toronto, a man who CBC agreed to call Robert, said he has spent the past 59 days organizing 10 staffers to hold spots in lineups for about 500 absent passport applicants.

He said he has earned up to $1,000 per day offering this service.

No passport number needed to book many online flights

“Most of my customers book fake flights just to get their passports so they can drive across [the border],” said Robert.

“You’re going through more hoops to drive across [the border] than to fly. So what they do is just book a fake flight. It’s usually Toronto to New York or Toronto to Miami, and within 24 hours, they cancel it,” he said of his customers.

Multiple travel agents and Air Canada confirmed that many flights can be booked online without a passport number, and full-fare or business class ticket is often refundable.

Other travellers head to out-of-province Service Canada offices where the lines are not so long, with some citing shorter waits in Halifax or St. John’s.

St. John’s photographer Robert Young often gets called on for passport photos.

He said lately more travellers from other parts of Canada are utilizing the passport processing services in at Newfoundland.

“We’ve always gotten people from the edges of the world — like Pangnirtung (Baffin Island) — but now they are showing up from bigger cities,” said Young.

Government promises fix is working

Gould said lineups have decreased with the hiring of 500 new staffers, extended hours and the prioritizing of applicants with imminent travel plans, within 48 hours.

Back on July 25, Service Canada expanded passport pick-up services, adding five more locations in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and B.C. to the 29 existing passport offices.

In Ontario and Quebec, a business has popped up to deal with the long waits for passport applications. Line standers charge about $40-$60 per hour or a flat fee of about $240 to line up at dawn and hold applicant’s place so they can apply to get a Canadian passport or renewal. (Roger Thompson)

This and other measures – like transferring application files to one of the 300 Service Canada offices upon request — aimed to reduce passport processing waits.

But many who mailed in applications last spring say the turnaround remains sluggish.

It’s difficult to get anybody on the phone or get an accurate status on an application, according to many applicants, including Paula Langley, a Canadian living in the U.S. who applied for a new passport in April.

Updates difficult to get

“The biggest problem is people being unable to get an answer about where in the process their passport is. I think the issue is partially technology. They are likely using outdated software. Other countries let you check your status in an online portal,” said Langley.

“It is very difficult to even get somebody on the phone to ask questions. The 1-800 number just cuts off after the queue of callers gets too high.”

On Passport Canada’s website, delivery is promised in 46 days or six and a half weeks. But anyone needing a passport within two business days can go to specialized sites offering urgent service, if they have proof of travel.

The government’s plan was to ease backlogs, but it’s given some a chance to jump the queue by booking and then cancelling travel.

Broken system

“It’s upsetting,” said Leanne MacLeod who runs Getaways by Leanne out of Toronto and offers passport advice online. What’s not helping, she said, is booking a “fake” trip that you cancel to get travel documents.

“I’ve seen people recommend booking a refundable hotel, then cancelling,” she said. “It’s really what’s holding up the whole process right now. For every person who gets ahead, one gets bumped.”

Taylor Bachrach, the New Democratic Party’s transport critic, said the fact that people are trying to work around the system is evidence it’s not working.

“It shows how frustrated people are and the lengths they are willing to go,” said Bachrach.

“If people are having to ‘game’ the system to get their documents, that shows how broken the system is.”

People in his Skeena Bulkley Valley constituency in Northern B.C. live a 12-hour drive from the nearest passport office.

Bachrach has one staffer who has spent the past several weeks devoted to helping constituents secure passports.

Family trips at risk

“I have a constituent whose family needed to travel to the United States, and we were able to work with the federal government to arrange for the passports to be picked up. But he had to incur $2,000 in extra travel costs to get from here in Smithers, B.C., all the way to Victoria to pick up the passports. … This obviously has a big impact on people.”

Bachrach said these months of passport chaos are “unacceptable.”

“The increased demand for passports was entirely predictable. But the Liberals failed to act even though they had months to prepare for travel to return.”

That lack of foresight has left many Canadians apprehensive, with only a few weeks of summer left. Joseph Ivens of Terrace, B.C., applied to renew his two teens’ passports back on April 4.

The family of five has saved for a trip to Mexico for four years. The flight is booked for Aug. 27, but the passports have not come.

Minister promises family passports are coming

The father of three said he’s made hundreds of calls, several requests for a file transfer and appealed to his member of parliament. He may be forced to travel to Calgary or Vancouver at the last minute to try to secure the travel documents so the holiday is not lost.

“It’s causing my family massive stress with loss of sleep. It’s breaking us,” said Ivens. “I have no recourse.”

Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, told CBC on Friday that Ivens will get travel documents on time.

“He will get his passport. I understand people are stressed, but everyone is getting their passport on time,” said Gould.

Source: Passport delays spur some Canadians to game the system with fake travel plans

Noël: Quand les gouvernements trébuchent [call for policy and program modestly]

Echoes the calls by others but nevertheless important.

Money quote: “le gouvernement fédéral devrait probablement modérer ses ambitions dans ses propres sphères de compétence, en adoptant des objectifs plus réalistes en immigration par exemple, afin d’éviter les échecs récurrents de gestion.”

Je n’étais pas en avance, c’est vrai, mais au début juillet, tard en soirée, je faisais des réservations pour un séjour de camping à Terre-Neuve et en Nouvelle-Écosse. Les réservations pour le traversier entre les deux provinces, opéré par Marine Atlantique, une société d’État fédérale, se sont avérées plutôt simples, tout comme celles pour des parcs provinciaux dans chaque province. Mais pour réserver des sites au parc national du Gros-Morne et à celui des Hautes-Terres-du-Cap-Breton, c’était un peu plus stressant. Avant de pouvoir réserver, il fallait créer une « CléGC (Service de gestion des justificatifs du gouvernement du Canada) », avec un nom d’utilisateur (toutes les variantes de mon nom ont été refusées), un mot de passe, et des réponses à une panoplie de questions. Pas un obstacle majeur, mais un processus un peu lourd pour une si petite tâche. À Ottawa, les missions les plus simples semblent souvent devenir complexes.

Tout ne va pas mal au Canada. Une étude parue à la fin juin dans le Canadian Medical Association Journal montre que, pour les deux premières années de la pandémie, le pays s’est classé parmi les meilleurs pour le nombre de cas, le taux de vaccination et la mortalité excédentaire, avec un bilan économique somme toute satisfaisant. Au Canada, ce sont les provinces atlantiques et le Québec qui ont connu les plus faibles taux de mortalité excédentaire.

Mais quelque part sur l’interminable voie de sortie de la pandémie, le bilan du gouvernement fédéral s’est détérioré. Cafouillage dans l’émission des visas et des passeports, congestion dans les aéroports, délais inacceptables à l’assurance-emploi, accueil difficile des réfugiés, traitement déficient des dossiers d’immigration, les échecs semblent s’accumuler.

Tout ne va pas nécessairement mieux dans les provinces. Il y a même des domaines où les ratés sont habituels, voire pérennes. La gestion des soins de santé constitue un cas patent. Mais dans ce cas, c’est largement une question de ressources. En 2019-2020, les soins de santé représentaient 41,4 % des dépenses de portefeuilles des provinces, comparativement à 31 % en 1981-1982. La même année, la contribution fédérale, par le biais du Transfert canadien en matière de santé, était tombée à 22,4 %. Si les provinces ne font pas mieux en santé, c’est largement parce que d’une année à l’autre elles doivent faire plus avec moins.

Dans d’autres domaines, comme en environnement, il s’agit plus clairement d’un manque de volonté politique. Si le ministre de l’Environnement du Québec « avait les convictions, la volonté, le courage et l’autorité morale nécessaires pour relever le défi de l’urgence climatique », écrivait récemment le chroniqueur Michel David, François Legault ne l’aurait pas choisi pour ce poste.

Mais émettre des visas et des passeports, acheminer des prestations d’assurance-emploi, traiter des demandes à l’immigration ? Le gouvernement fédéral a sûrement les ressources pour accomplir ces tâches et il devrait même être capable de marquer des points dans des secteurs qu’il contrôle depuis toujours, qui sont visibles et significatifs pour les citoyens et ne demandent pas des ressources faramineuses. « Il ne fallait pas être un génie », déplorait récemment l’ancien greffier du Bureau du Conseil privé Paul Tellier, « pour prédire qu’il y aurait une hausse des demandes de passeport » au sortir de la pandémie.

M. Tellier attribue les difficultés du gouvernement Trudeau à la centralisation excessive de la gestion autour du premier ministre et à la méfiance qui en découle entre élus et fonctionnaires. D’autres auteurs blâment le jeu politique, qui amène les élus à négliger les conseils et les actions des fonctionnaires.

Plus plausible, à mon avis, est le constat de l’ancien haut fonctionnaire Ralph Heintzman selon lequel le gouvernement fédéral se désintéresse des services aux citoyens depuis au moins trente ans. Dans la fonction publique fédérale, le prestige est associé aux conseils et à la stratégie, pas à la gestion compétente des programmes en place. Une carrière ascendante se caractérise par des sauts rapides d’un ministère à l’autre, pour appliquer à des niveaux supérieurs des méthodes de gestion largement indifférenciées. Consacrer trop d’années à maîtriser un domaine d’intervention gouvernementale semble manifester un manque d’ambition. Les hauts fonctionnaires voient ainsi les choses de haut. Quant aux élus, ils préfèrent annoncer des programmes plutôt que de veiller à leur bon cheminement.

Mais pourquoi ces travers semblent-ils plus prononcés à Ottawa ? Pour le comprendre, il faut considérer le fonctionnement de la fédération canadienne. Un rapport récent de l’Institut sur la gouvernance rapporte les propos d’un haut fonctionnaire qui note que « nous ne sommes pas un pays cohésif. Nous sommes une grande fédération ». On pourrait interpréter ce constat comme un appel de plus à davantage de collaboration entre les ordres de gouvernement. Mais il semble plus juste d’y voir une caractéristique structurelle, une condition d’existence du Canada.

La figure 1 ci-dessous montre bien pourquoi la gestion quotidienne de services aux citoyens n’est pas le fort du gouvernement fédéral.

Figure 1 : Dépenses du gouvernement fédéral et du gouvernement du Québec, 2021Sources : Comptes publics du Canada ; Comptes publics du Québec

Le gouvernement fédéral est un animal particulier, plus habitué à émettre des transferts aux individus, aux entreprises et aux gouvernements, et à énoncer des normes associées à ces transferts, qu’à livrer des services à la population. L’année 2021 exagère un peu le trait, puisque la pandémie a engendré son lot de transferts exceptionnels. Mais la logique générale ne change pas. Il y a plus de vingt ans, le rapport de la Commission sur le déséquilibre fiscal faisait état de proportions assez semblables.

Les difficultés actuelles du gouvernement Trudeau ne sont donc pas si exceptionnelles. Le gouvernement fédéral demeure principalement une machine à récolter et à distribuer des ressources fiscales et il a tendance à se perdre quand il s’agit de gérer des programmes concrets.

La solution réside donc moins dans une réforme additionnelle de la fonction publique fédérale que dans une meilleure compréhension du fonctionnement de la fédération. En premier lieu, il faudrait améliorer l’équilibre fiscal en laissant davantage de ressources propres aux gouvernements provinciaux, dont la tâche principale consiste justement à livrer des services à la population.

Ensuite, pour des raisons évidentes, il conviendrait de prendre avec un grain de sel les volontés de leadership fédérales sur des questions de compétence provinciale. Notant dans une formulation bien à lui qu’en santé « ce n’est pas juste pitcher de l’argent vers le problème qui va le résoudre », M. Trudeau invitait récemment les provinces à des « conversations » afin de réduire les délais d’attente. Compte tenu de l’état de ses services, il devrait se garder une petite gêne.

En fait, le gouvernement fédéral devrait probablement modérer ses ambitions dans ses propres sphères de compétence, en adoptant des objectifs plus réalistes en immigration par exemple, afin d’éviter les échecs récurrents de gestion.

Mais les difficultés actuelles ne sont pas nouvelles, et elles ne se résorberont pas facilement.

Source: Quand les gouvernements trébuchent